By Brandt Nevin and AJ Schulte
About Reserved Instances: An Amazon Reserved Instance (RI) is a billing discount that allows you to save on your Amazon EC2 usage costs. When you purchase a Reserved Instance, you can set attributes such as instance type, platform, tenancy, Region, or Availability Zone (optional). Any existing or new On-Demand Instances matching the selected attributes are charged at the discounted Reserved Instance price. Reserved Instances act as an automatic discount on new or existing On-Demand Instances in your account.
If you’ve ever tried to run project management through a spreadsheet, you’ll know how difficult it is to create a product that’s easy to both use and view. There can be pain points when trying to use a spreadsheet for project management, such as data collection and lack of automation. Also, not having a centralized location for a project management tool forces the user to look through several documents for their specific projects, ideas, and/or tasks.
Where We Stood Before Honeycode
As a team, we’ve created several iterations of a tool to assist with our project management and organization over the last couple of years. Originally, these were spreadsheet-based and lacked much functionality outside of listing ongoing projects, along with a project owner and due date, and a few other details. These spreadsheets weren’t user-friendly either, which hindered adoption by the team.
As a result, there was a decline in the number of people submitting projects and activities that would allow for further growth. By mid-2020, almost everyone had noticed this decline. Internal metrics showed people felt less connected and influential with regard to the team’s direction and their own development. We went from 52% project participation (11 of 21 analysts, August 2019) to 38% (12 of 32 analysts, November 2020). After we created our app in Honeycode as a solution, and the additions since, we’ve seen the team’s adoption and participation skyrocket. As of the time of writing, participation among analysts on our team has increased by 73% in just under 4 months (22 of 34 analysts, March 2021)!
A little background on our roles
As analysts on the AWS Reserved Instance (RI) Operations team, our foremost responsibilities are to maintain an intimate knowledge of and review requests related to RIs and Savings Plans (SPs) to RI and SP transactions. We also function as the team’s “project managers.” In addition to our core scope of work, each analyst explores opportunities to streamline efforts and automates repetitive tasks for the team, while developing and honing their own skills. The less time we’d spend on rote tasks, the more time we’d have to improve the customer experience.
Knowing we had to do something to increase adoption, we identified Honeycode as the perfect tool for our idea & project submission, and to improve messaging and notification automation. Our primary focus was creating a low barrier for entry, designing an easily navigable user interface (UI), and building a product that allowed for easy content updates at any time.
The first place a user will go is the Project Dashboard (image below) which enables them to navigate through the app. From here, they can submit a new project/idea, view active or pending submissions, or look through the archive of finished projects. At the bottom of this screen is a list that displays all of the users’ current projects and allows them to update some critical tracking information like health and phase. They can also enter status updates into a free text field for their Project Manager or Co-owners to see.
Iterating and Improving
We’ve created two separate submission paths based on the current stage of the team member’s proposal: Project Submission Form and Idea Submission Form. For a project that’s already in progress with a clearly defined scope, impact, and effort, the Project Submission Form is used (image below, left). Alternatively, if an idea exists but still needs significant work before progress can be made, the Idea Submission Form is used (image below, right) to revisit it later with the Project Management team (AJ and Brandt) to fill in the gaps.
This app is used to track and request Project updates, create tasks, and relate them to the project, and view project metrics — anything the Owner or Manager of a project might need. By navigating to the Project Details screen, the user can maintain project status and view any tasks that have been created for that project. Once a project or idea has been submitted, the Project Management team will reach out to the submitter to discuss the opportunity and ensure each of the Essential Questions have been considered. When the Project Management team conducts their grooming session, they decide on the next steps for that project, whether to approve, decline, or convert to a task. The current status on the submission and the Project Management team point of contact owning the review can be seen from the “View your unapproved submissions for ideas and projects” button on the dashboard. Regardless of the decision, the user will be notified automatically so they can proceed accordingly.
Since the app’s launch in November 2020, we’ve made one major addition to the scope and function of this tool — adding the Available Tasks screen. This new screen lists any tasks that have been designated as “up for grabs” by anyone on the team, for anyone on the team. We also introduced two categories of tags for Tasks: Topics, which describe how the task affects our team, and Skills, which describe what skillsets will be utilized to complete the task.
The app in action
As an example project: I’m writing a blog post about my favorite Amazon product and want to create some tasks so we can track progress on the different processes associated with this project. For the demo, I’ll create a new task and associate it with the project pictured above. This particular task is related to Learning & Development and involves writing — at this point, I’m ok with anyone on my team picking this up to help me, so I’ll say “Yes,” this task is up for grabs.
Any analyst from our team can visit the Available Tasks screen and see there are a few open tasks related to the same project, but with different skills required. They can grab as many or as few of these tasks as they want. As soon as they click “Assign to Me” (see the image below), the task is removed from the list of Available Tasks, and both the user and the task creator will get an email notification encouraging them to reach out in whatever way makes the most sense for the task at hand.
Immediate Tangible Results
We’ve added this new functionality using Honeycode, which is in direct response to the lack of agency felt by many of our colleagues. This is a way for anyone to take ownership and get involved with ongoing projects to start contributing faster and more effectively than ever before. By highlighting the Task’s suggested Skills, Honeycode allows us to leverage existing abilities of our colleagues more efficiently. At the same time, it lowers the barrier to entry for individuals seeking opportunities to expand their areas of expertise. As we connect the people who want to learn new skills with the opportunities to do so, we’re facilitating continuous improvement of the individual and the team at the same time. Not only do users have a pain-free way to step into these new opportunities, there’s a record of every contribution made to a given project, thanks to Honeycode.
We genuinely believe that finding ways to let our colleagues flex their varied skillsets will only enhance the experience of our customers and, just as importantly, allow our team to improve every day.
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